How Baba Budan First Brought Coffee To India In His Beard
Image Credit: Image: Unsplash- Alin Luna

Coffee had a vice-like hold on the world’s taste buds and economies long before Starbucks made it a steaming hot commodity. The drink is said to have been discovered by an Ethiopian shepherd who noticed the beans made his goats extra energetic. Yemeni monks were the first to systematically cultivate the coffee plant and the first to make a drink from the roasted beans. Though it was originally used by the monks to stay awake through long hours of prayer, it soon spread and by the 16th century had gained popularity in Persia, Syria, Egypt and Turkey, and was enjoyed as a recreational beverage.

The Arab world still held a strict monopoly on the plant though, prohibiting the export of anything other than roasted Arabica beans to ensure that the coffee trees will not grow outside Yemen. If any coffee plants or fresh beans were to leave Yemen, the person responsible would pay with their life. Most of these pre-roasted exports to Europe came through The World Trade Centre for Coffee which lay in the port of Mocha in the Red Sea.

Image: Unsplash- Raghavendra Prasad

In the 16th century, an Indian Sufi monk named Baba Budan was making the holy pilgrimage to Mecca and on his return, made a stop at Mocha. As was customary for pilgrims passing through the port, he was offered a refreshing drink of ‘qahwa’ to ease the long journey. He found the taste so intoxicating that he vowed to bring the wondrous beverage back to his homeland.

Evading the watchful eyes of his Yemini hosts, he managed to secret seven green coffee beans in his thick beard and risking his life, carried them almost 6,500 kilometres across the sea to India. Since the number seven is considered sacrosanct in the Islamic religion, this choice has been hailed as a religious act. On his return, he planted the beans in the courtyard of his hermitage in Chikmagalur, Karnataka and that became the heart of coffee cultivation in India.

Today, Karnataka is still the leading producer of coffee in India today, accounting for 71% of the crop and Baba Budan has never been forgotten with the highest hill range in Karnataka still bearing his name. The Sufi saint may have just been down to change his morning routine, but his act of defiance changed our lives, so next time you relish an espresso or savour a cold brew, raise a glass to the brave Baba Budan!